From Publishers Weekly
Growing up a poor white girl in the Bronx in the 1960s, Childers endured a childhood marred by violence, poverty, neglect and shame. In this poignant memoir, she recounts it all with astonishing honesty and grace. Focusing on her life between the ages of 10 and 16, Childers draws a vivid portrait of a family fighting for survival, triumphing over unwanted pregnancies and cruel boyfriends, and held together by an alcoholic but occasionally heroic single mother. The strength of this heartrending tale lies in its contradictions: Childers loves her family but also bitterly resents them, longing for the day that she can escape only to find that she misses them when she is gone. The depth and complexity of the individuals, particularly Childers's alternately selfish and sympathetic mother, is a testament to her compassion as a writer and her ability to empathize with and forgive people's flaws. Childers neither romanticizes nor bemoans her family's struggle, but tells her story candidly in prose that sparkles with energy and wit, speaking wisely on everything from race relations to the Church's stance on birth control. Although the ending feels somewhat rushed, the book is an insightful and powerful tale that emphasizes "what a heroine you have to be to drag yourself out of bed day after day into minimum-wage jobs, aware that you'll never get ahead and fearful that everything will collapse."
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Childers describes her journey from a childhood growing up on welfare in the Bronx, one of seven children with four different fathers, to her life as a consultant with a Ph.D. in English literature. Her family had no phone and occasionally no electricity, and little food; and their mother often disappeared, leaving Mary in charge of her younger siblings. Something in Mary and her sister, Joan, makes them realize that they must break the cycle of poverty, and that the key is education. Mary is placed in accelerated programs, completing junior high in one year, and entering high school in 1966 in the tenth grade. Along the way she babysits to earn her own money, joins a gang until she perceives their hatred of minorities, experiences racial hatred herself after Martin Luther King's assassination, and eventually gets a full scholarship to a small college in western New York. Remarkably free of bitterness as she matures, Childers begins to focus on how hard her mother tried, instead of how often she failed. Deborah DonovanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved